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Joanne Bagshaw Ph.D.
Joanne Bagshaw Ph.D.

Who Initiates Divorce More Often?

Are women or men more likely to initiate divorce?

One might think that the majority of divorces in heterosexual marriages are initiated by men, due to the financial and social difficulties that many women face post-divorce (Brinig & Allen, 2000). However, research since the 1940s has revealed that among heterosexual couples, women are more responsible for initiating divorce than men and that divorced women are typically happier after ending their marriages (Brining & Allen, 2000; Rosenfeld, 2016).


Michael Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford University analyzed data from 2009 to 2015 from a nationally representative survey consisting of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 19 and 94 who were in a heterosexual marriage. Rosenfeld found that nearly 70 percent of women initiated a divorce, but this figure did not translate to break-ups in dating relationships.

The author hypothesizes that the difference in results between breakups in dating relationships may be due to the baggage that comes with marriage, particularly for women. Non-marital relationships tend to be more flexible and adaptable. Rosenfeld argues that for women, marriage itself is burdened by outdated expectations and hasn’t evolved to fit current expectations for gender equality. For instance, the women who reported more dissatisfaction in this study also reported that loss of independence and controlling husbands were the primary cause of their unhappiness (American Sociological Association, 2016).

The division of household labor and chores is one area in heterosexual marriages that has changed somewhat, but not evolved to fit modern expectations. More married men contribute to household tasks today than ever before, but still, the division of labor isn’t equal, especially for working mothers, who still do more household work.

Sharing household chores is good for marriage, which is something that both men and women agree on. In fact, when men contribute equally to household chores, couples tend to have more frequent and satisfying sex.

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American Sociological Association (2016). Women more likely than men to initiate divorces, but not non marital breakups. [Press Release]. Retrieved from AM_2015_Rosenfeld_News_Release_FINAL.pdf

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi:

Bring, M.F., & Allen, D.W. (2000). ‘These boots are made for walking’: Why most divorce filers are women. Am Law Econ Rev. 2(1): 126-169.

About the Author
Joanne Bagshaw Ph.D.

Joanne Bagshaw, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at Montgomery College and a sex and relationship therapist.